It all came down to show jumping, as it so often does. But for the winners of the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, Oliver Townend & Ballaghmor Class (owned by Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop and Val Ryan), nothing was certain until they stopped the timers.

After knocking the top portion off a white gate at fence 5 in a gasp-worthy moment, Townend had no more faults to give up to close-on-his-heels competitor Gemma Tattersall with Arctic Soul, sitting in second place after day two (they would ultimately finish third behind Piggy French & Vanir Kamira). When he completed the remaining 10 jumps on Richard Jeffery’s challenging course without issue,  Oliver removed his helmet and galloped along the edge of the field, embraced by the crowd, who roared their congratulations.

This is the second win at the four-star for Townend, who last topped Burghley with Carousel Quest in 2009. With the 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Ballaghmor Class (Courage X Kilderry Place), however, Oliver believes he finally has a horse that can go the distance at the top tier of international competition.

“I looked around the collecting ring and I honestly wouldn’t swap him for any other horse in there. It’s been a long time since I said that. It’s the biggest and most difficult four-star to win and it means the world to me,” an emotional Townend said.

With a bright future ahead of them, here are 16 reasons why Oliver Townend has earned his ride on Ballaghmor Class, the horse that might finally make his Olympic dreams come true.

  1.  In 2009, Townend won back-to-back four-stars at Badminton on Flint Curtis and Burghley on Carousel Quest, finishing the season as the top-ranked British eventer.
  2. Oliver grew up across from the Whitaker family’s show jumping farm in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.
  3. Townend inherited a love of horses from his grandmother, who used them to pull her milk float. His father Alan also made his living as a milkman.
  4. Oliver began riding when he was seven years old; his father Alan was an eventer and competed at Burghley as an amateur. His mother Eve showed side-saddle at the local level.
  5. Townend is a prolific competitor, with more than 250 starts and 30 wins in 2016, alone, including Australia’s Adelaide CIC3*, which he won on a borrowed horse.
  6. For three years, Oliver worked his way up through the ranks while riding with the late British Event Team show jumping trainer, Kenneth Clawson.
  7. When Townend left Clawson’s yard to start his own operation at Gadlas Farm at age 21, he had  £1,400 to his name. “I am more proud of keeping [that] place going than I am of anything I have ever won,” he told The Independent in 2012.
  8. To pay his way and his staff over the years, Townend has sold more than 10 of his best horses, including Land Vision, an Olympic hopeful who eventually won Badminton with Mark Todd in 2011.
  9. At points in his career, Townend says he would walk up to other competitors in the warm-up ring and asking if they had any horses they didn’t want. “As a rider, I might be more stupid, more courageous or more desperate than the rest,” he’s said.
  10. Townend himself has had a patchy relationship with the press, and during his early years, was often painted as a ‘bad boy’ by the British media.
  11. Carousel Quest, who won Burghley with Townend in 2009, had been sold twice and failed the vet check both times. Oliver worked him up slowly and says they won Burghley without ever galloping in training.
  12. After his four-star wins in the U.K. in 2009, Townend hoped to contest the Grand Slam of Eventing at Rolex Kentucky with Ashdale Cruise Master. Unfortunately, the pair suffered a fall on cross-country, leaving Oliver with a broken shoulder, collarbone, sternum and four ribs.
  13. Townend discharged himself from the hospital and tried to fly home, only to be stranded in the Chicago airport in the wake of the Icelandic ash cloud, where he was forced to sleep on the floor of the departures area (talk about a bad day!).
  14. Oliver is friends with British eventer Zara Tindall and has joked that eventing is the only sport that could make such a relationship possible. “What other sport would you have the Queen’s granddaughter and a milkman’s lad competing against one another?” he has said.
  15. Townend was recently part of the 2017 FEI European Championship-winning British team in Strzegom, Poland.
  16. Finally, with three “top class” 10- and 11-year-old horses at his yard, Townend is looking forward to changing tacks in his operation. “We’ve had a bit of a rough time everyone thinks—I’ve never seen it as a rough time—but it’s all about building for the future. It takes an awfully long time to produce them to this level and we have to go through an awful lot of numbers to get the class ones. I’ve said it for years, I’m desperate to start concentrating on the top-class [horses], and hopefully, people will start sending them a bit more after that performance.”

-Photo credit: Nixon Photo courtesy of the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.